CRANSTON — Forty years post Title IX and after thousands, if not tens of thousands of female athletes have competed along side their male counterparts, it barely rates a “news” story if another young woman shows she capable of playing a so-called “boys’ game.”
It still is headline material, however, when a female vies with and/or against males in the more physical of pursuits — football and hockey — and does so with aplomb.
East Providence High School freshman Brynne Costa is one such example.
Ms. Costa has not only taken a regular shift for the very successful Townies in hockey this winter. She is one of the top scorers on the team and a key reason why East Providence earned another top finish in the regular season Division III ranks and is considered to have a real chance to defend its league championship as the league playoffs begin in earnest this weekend.
“Brynne’s come a long way this season. She came in a great skater. She can really skate, but early in the season she had hands of stone. She struggled. I think she had to adapt to the speed and the physicality,” said EPHS head coach Kevin Croke. “The first couple of games she got knocked around pretty good, but she came right back up, bounced back up. And she doesn’t want to hear it. She doesn’t want to be asked when she comes to the bench. She just says ‘I’m fine, coach. Let me go.'”
Coach Croke saw fit to put Ms. Costa on a line with one of the team’s top returning players, senior co-captain Kevin Hall, and returning sophomore Ryan Costa, a move that proved quite fruitful for all involved. Hall and Ryan Costa (no relation) each finished with the same 28-point totals off 14 goals and 14 assists. Brynne wasn’t far behind with seven goals, 19 helpers and 26 total points. E.P.’s other senior captain Troy Derrick posted regular-season team best totals 19 goals and 33 points.
“I think coach picked the right lines by putting me, Costa and Brynne on one because we get in there and forecheck, get in the corners. Brian can score and Brynne can pretty much work her way through traffic and pass the puck. It works pretty well,” said Hall. “She keeps up with our line. She does great. She passes the puck. She works in the corners. She’s been really good at the physical play.”
Ms. Costa admits to experiencing a period of adjustment early on, though she blended her skills rather quickly to the male style of play.
“It’s definitely different playing with the boys, but it’s been a good experience. It took some time to get used to it, but it’s worked out well,” she explained. “The first game was a big wake-up call. It really was, but I really did get used to it. I just decided I would rather rack up points instead of worrying about getting an injury.”
Coach Croke said he had little trepidation putting Ms. Costa in the lineup, but her above-average play has been a bit of a revelation even to him.
“She’s been a pleasant surprise,” the coach continued. “She’s fortunate in that she’s a right-hander playing on a line with two very good lefties, so everything is coming her way from Kevin and Ryan. She’s adapted well. She’s banged home seven goals and she has almost 20 assists, so she’s done really well.”
Ms. Costa, too, expressed to being unaware of how well her first high school season would go and was quick to credit Hall and Costa with helping her excel.
“It’s definitely surprising. I thought I would be mostly third or fourth line, getting a few shifts a game, but coach just gave me so many opportunities to do my best,” Ms. Costa explained. “And I have really good line mates. It’s almost like they’re watching out for me on the ice. Whenever I get hit, I look up and they’re laying out the kid that did it. It’s been nice. They’ve really helped me out.”
It’s obvious Ms. Costa in no newcomer to the game. She’s skated and played hockey since she was a toddler, first in co-ed house leagues then with all-female teams, including her current club side the Massachusetts Spitfires based out of Walpole.
She had opportunities to remain on all-girls’ sides in high school. She could have gone to in-city Bay View, LaSalle or another private school that offers hockey or could have co-oped with nearby public schools with female teams like Barrington. She declined, however, wanting to remain in the East Providence School System.
“I just decided I wanted to get the whole high school experience,” Ms. Costa said. “I didn’t want to change schools. As much fun as playing on the club team is, there’s nothing like playing a varsity sport at school. I’m definitely glad I decided to come to the high school.”
So, too, are the Townies.
Her learning curve still evolving, she’s gained immediate success and acceptance. Still, while she adjusted, her male teammates needed to as well.
“The physicality of playing against boys is so much different. The speed is so much different. I think she’s glad she ended up here. I think it will be better for her in the long run,” Coach Croke said.
He continued, “Sometimes early in the season when someone would hit her, someone would immediately seek retribution and it was usually Kevin. And he took some bad penalties for it. And I had to tell him, if she wants to play boys’ hockey, then you have to treat her like one of the boys. She’s gotta take the hits. We can’t go running people every time somebody knocks her down. That was one of the issues, Kevin acting like her big brother. But other than that, it’s been nothing but positive.”
Like other girls playing on boys’ teams, Ms. Costa is separated somewhat when it comes to preparing for games. She puts her equipment on in a different room, which has its own unique set of circumstances, although it has done nothing to diminish the camaraderie she shares with her mates.
“I definitely feel part of the team. Everyone has been so nice,” Ms. Costa said. “But it’s funny. I’ve learned at every rink the Zamboni driver is the guy to find because he has the key to the locker room. They just know everything that goes on at the rink, so he’s the guy I have to find to get into the room.”
Both player and mentor see space for improvement in her game for the remainder of her high school career, during which Coach Croke said he “absolutely expects” Ms. Costa to be a key contributor to the Townies for the next three years.
“She needs to get stronger,” Coach Croke continued. “She still needs to work on her shot and her stick handling, but she’s so unbelievable coachable. She’s so smart. She knows where to go. She reads the play so well. And she gets there, which is most important. I think she learned how to forecheck aggressively this year. Getting her to understand that was one of the last things we needed to get on her about this year, and she’s come a long way.”
Added Ms. Costa, “I think my skating is my best attribute, but I think my puck work needs to improve. My shots alright, but I need some work on that, too.”
Though Ms. Costa may not be of the same gender of her teammates, she is of the same focused mindset, a trait that has served her and the rest of the Townies well so far this season and one they hope continues over the next few weeks as they chase to win a second consecutive league championship.
“I think the entire team is just 110-percent hard workers,” she said. “Everybody wants to win as much as the next person, and I think that really shows through.”